Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wanted: a theology of mining (part 5)

"Brotvermehrungskirche BW 3" by Berthold Werner - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
This morning I was reading in Matthew's gospel the story of Jesus' miraculous feeding of five thousand.   Matthew locates this sign directly after the death of John the Baptist: after the banquet which Herod gives  (which turns out to be no celebration for him but a feast of shame and death), Jesus is host at a different kind of meal, showcasing a different sort of abundance...

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:13-21)

Jesus' miracles are signs of what the Kingdom of God is like. When he heals the sick and raises the dead, that is a brief forward glimpse, an anticipation, of what will be fully realized in the new creation he is inaugurating, when "he will wipe every tear from their eyes". (Revelation 21:4)  In that world health will bubble up from the ground and infuse even the leaves of the trees.  That does not mean that right now, between the times, there is no work for doctors or gravediggers to do.  It does tell us that their work of healing and mourning will reach its completion, its telos or goal; and the miracle privileges us even now for a moment to enjoy a foretaste of what that telos will mean.

Similarly, when Jesus multiplies food in the wilderness, that is an insight into the nature of the kingdom.  It is a kingdom of plenty, of abundance, not of scarcity.  "They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights." (Psalm 36:8) That does not mean that now, between the times, we may normally expect our meals to fall from the sky (as Paul grumpily reminds us).  But it does tell us that the work of struggling against scarcity growing and harvesting food will also reach its telos; and once again we enjoy a foretaste of that joyful telos in the miraculous feeding.

See here for more about Tom Swift and his adventures.
I've made a series of posts about mining (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) and I was thinking about them in relation to this story. Many mining stories center on the "unexpected blessing" theme - the gold nugget in the mud, the oil well that pours forth its wealth without restraint. (Never mind that early "gushers" were environmental disasters - the pleasant farmland in the picture to the right would not have lasted long; my attention here is on the nature of the stories that we tell.)  Could we begin to build a theology of mining by seeing the hidden treasures of the earth as something like signs, foretastes of kingdom abundance, unexpected bonus miracles? Events which when found are to be received with joy, as signs of coming kingdom abundance; but which are not to be made the foundation of everyday life now, between the times.

Note: Updated 5/2015 to fix images, no text changes

1 comment:

Cellarius said...

Hi John - I can across your blog while googling on the theology of quarrying/mining. I wonder if you had any further thoughts on it? I'm a (UK) engineer doing a MTh and I'm intrigued by what happens when we give the same sort of theological attention to our abiotic resources (aka the raw materials of engineering) as has traditionally been given to the biosphere. My focus presently is developing fragments of a theological anthropology of engineering, rather than primarily ethical.

Sorry to read about your tumours. I had one removed from my R shoulder a couple of years ago - fortunately for me, it turned out to be non-malignant.